Begin by avoiding shady areas of tall grass and brush, and regularly mow areas where children play. Short grass gives chiggers fewer hiding places at midday. “They are really not very hardy and can’t take much sunlight,” Wildman says.
In other parts of your property, chiggers are likely present in large numbers in some spots, while places only 10 feet away may be chigger-free. So, one person in a berry-picking party may suffer multiple bites while another remains untouched. This is because female chiggers, which begin hatching from overwintered eggs when temperatures rise above 60 degrees, lay eggs in clusters, and hatchlings don’t stray far from each other. Thousands may wait patiently in leaves and grass until a mouse, lizard or errant human walks past. Then, attracted by the carbon dioxide the animal exhales, the chigger larvae quickly scurry to find a place to feed. On a warm day, they can make it from your shoe to your waistband in only 15 minutes.
This clustering — and the fact that long, humid summers can produce three generations of chiggers — makes broadcasting insecticides ineffective. Plus, many chemicals once used to control chiggers have been banned from home use, Goff says.
Some chigger fighters identify “hot spots” by propping up squares of black cardboard vertically around their yards. If the mites are nearby, they will crawl to the top of the cardboard and can be seen with a magnifying glass. Setting out a chunk of dry ice on a white sheet also will attract chiggers because they are drawn to carbon dioxide.
The problem with both approaches, however, is that they attract other kinds of mites as well. The ones you find may not be chiggers. Besides, anyone who gets close enough to watch them probably will be itching soon.
Stinky stuff keeps chiggers away. The Karankawa tribe knew this. That’s why these Gulf Coast dwellers slathered themselves with alligator grease. A smelly-but-dry modern alternative is sulphur powder (available at pharmacies); it’s an effective repellent for people who aren’t bothered by the odor. Just shake your socks in a plastic bag with a tablespoon of the powder before going outside. Those more accepting of chemical methods may choose over-the-counter repellents containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) as a less pungent repellent.
Experts recommend wearing long sleeves and tall boots, and stuffing your pants into your socks when venturing into chigger territory. Then, shower and wash your clothes as soon as you can. Some chiggers wander about for hours before finding a place to feed, so you often have time to wash them off. If it’s too hot to dress defensively, stop every half hour or so and vigorously rub your skin, including those soft, tender spots that chiggers love (waistband and underarms). Chiggers brush off rather easily, but because they are too small to cause a tickle, it’s important to rub yourself down before you start itching.
When the itching starts, the parasites often are long gone, and we’re left with bright red bumps that drive us crazy for as long as two or three weeks. Antihistamines, hydrocortisone creams and cool compresses will help provide relief. Benadryl, a topical antihistamine, comes in gel, cream, spray and “itch stick” form. A dab of fingernail polish may remind you not to scratch, but it does nothing to cure the itch.
When the six-legged larvae are done feeding (this can take from one to several days), they drop off the hosts and transform into eight-legged nymphs, which mature to the adult stage. Adult chiggers prefer eggs of springtails, isopods and mosquitoes to humans and animals.
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